The 4 Most Dangerous Hikes in the US
Half Dome is a giant granite dome located at the east end of Yosemite National Park. It stands at 4,800 ft above the valley floor and takes about 8.2 miles to reach via The Mist Trail route. It is one of the most iconic features in Yosemite due to its sheer size and distinct shape. It was described as perfectly inaccessible until when George Anderson reach its summit by laying down post-mounted cables, the predecessor to today’s cable route. Looking like a dome cut in half, it has been an irresistible climb for hikers attracting more than 1000 visitors a day before they set the limit to 300.
Half Dome is a spectacular hike but it is not an easy feat as the whole trip will take an average person 12 hours to complete. This means starting at 3 or 4 in the morning just to beat the lines at the Cables. The whole hike (via Mist Trail) is a 14-mile round trip and gains almost 5000 feet in elevation. The trek also passes through Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall where there are several spots along the trail that are guaranteed to be wet and slippery. After you pass the Mist Trail you’ll arrive at the sub dome where you continue the remainder of the trail above the tree line where the air is thinner and you are totally exposed to the weather. If the weather permits you’d have arrived at the cables. The Cables is a 400 feet vertical hike to the summit of the half dome where thousands of feet have rendered the path smoother than it should be.
What makes the hike dangerous is the unpredictability of the weather and how people tend to underestimate the hike. The hike itself is not suited for any unfit person and may be grueling for a novice hiker. Because of the lack of preparation, many hikers suffer from injuries, dehydration, and in some cases death. The safety on Half Dome can change in an instant because of the weather. A short shower can make the rock very slick and there’s always the danger of a lightning strike.
In May 2018, a man died on Half Dome after he slipped and fell during a thunderstorm on the last 400 feet of the climb.
In 2006, a hiker was descending the summit when she slipped and fell 300 feet to her death. The following year, another person died while hiking during inclement weather where her body was found 1,000 feet below the base of the handrails.
The search and rescue team responds to more than 100 incidents each year along the Half Dome trail. From 2005 to 2015 alone, Half Dome's dangerous climb has resulted in at least 140 search-and-rescue missions, 290 accidents, and 12 deaths.
Canyonlands National Park is divided into four districts. Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Green and Colorado Rivers, And The Maze. The Maze is the most remote and least accessible district and one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of the US.
Situated in the southeastern desert of Utah, The Maze a group of interwoven canyons, often with dead-ends, and is known as a “thirty-square-mile puzzle in sandstone.” Trails in the Maze are primitive and lead into canyons and to various viewpoints. Due to the nature and depth of Maze canyons, access to them is limited. Routes into the canyons are cairned from the mesa top to the canyon bottom, but routes through washes are often unmarked. Many of the canyons look alike and are difficult to identify without a topographic map. The Maze sees only 2,000 people per year, compared to the 264,000 people that visit Island in The Sky. Even backcountry rangers are required to follow strict communication protocols and leave a detailed itinerary with someone who monitors their trip into the backcountry.
One of the biggest dangers in The Maze is getting lost that’s why the hike will require a certain amount of experience to conquer. Dehydration is also a looming concern as temperatures reach 110 degrees during the summer months. Be sure to bring and drink a gallon of water per day, and make sure to ask the Ranger Station about available water sources. Another danger in The Maze is the unpredictability of flash floods as they can occur without warning and routes through washes are often unmarked. All these unfortunate circumstances can be made worse by the fact that it may take up to 3 days for rescue to come due to the remoteness of the area. And no, there are no cell signals within The Maze.
Bright Angel Trail is considered the most popular hiking trail in the park, and this popularity has somehow watered down the fact that it is also the most dangerous hike in Arizona and one of the most dangerous in the US. Without any permits required to hike, it is one of the busiest trails you’ll find. The further you travel on the trail, the less populated it becomes with tourists and other hikers.
The Bright Angel Trail began as a Native American route. Recognizing the true worth of the trail for tourists, it was later developed as a private “toll road” by businessman Ralph Cameron. The trail was eventually taken over and improved by the National Park Service.
The trail is a full 18-mile trek roundtrip with 4,380 feet in elevation change. It will lose most of its elevation with the first 3 to 4 miles. Along the way, you will see several popular spots and resthouses. At 4.5 miles you will find Indian Garden which is a popular resting and turning around spot for most people. It is an oasis in the desert and was deliberately set up for tourists in 1903. There is a campsite there with large Cottonwood trees and several picnic-type areas. From Indian Garden, you will pass River Resthouse then the trail will follow a creek until you reach the Colorado River. Cross the Bright Angel Bridge and continue on the path until you reach Bright Angel Campsite on your left.
This is where most people overestimate themselves and underestimate the trail when they decide to turn back and finish the hike. Park services strongly insist against hikers doing the whole trip in one day as they’ll have to hike back another 9 miles with 4,380 feet of elevation increase. The uphill hike back can get the best of even the most seasoned hikers. By the time you get to the Colorado River, your legs are already weak and those same legs now have to get you back up to the rim.
The Bright Angel Trail sees more rescues and 911 calls than any other trail in the state and over 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year.
The path to Mount Rainier’s Camp Muir through the Muir Snowfields may fool anyone thinking the 4,600 elevation gain and the 4.5-mile hike is what makes this route dangerous. But what makes crossing the Muir Snowfield disastrous is when the weather deteriorates, as it often and unpredictably does.
The Muir Snowfield is a permanent field of snow, ice, and rock outcrops. It is located north of Paradise between 7,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation. Thousands of people hike on the Muir Snowfield each year en route to Camp Muir and on a clear day, the hike is spectacular.
The season can be winter in the snowfield every day of the year. Storms often hit unexpectedly and the deep snow and fog can turn Muir Snowfield into a death trap. Mistakes in navigation while traveling to or from Camp Muir during storms and white-outs have resulted in lost climbers and hikers, and fatalities.
Discipline and preparedness alone will not ensure a safe trip. Camp Muir and the Muir Snowfield are surrounded by the Nisqually Glacier to the west, the Cowlitz Glacier to the north and east, and the Paradise Glacier to the south and east. A simple error in navigation may lead you onto these glaciers where there are innumerable crevasses and other hazards.
Approach rock islands with care while traversing the Muir Snowfield, because of the holes that form around rocks as snow melts. In late summer crevasses sporadically open up on the snowfield in the vicinity of Anvil Rock and may be hidden by snow.
Make sure you are prepared mentally and physically before going on any hike. Hiking or trekking on advanced trails can be dangerous for inexperienced hikers. Check appropriate gear before the trip and make sure you let somebody know your itinerary. Plan your hike thoroughly down to every detail. If the weather looks like it’s going to be bad, it's better to hold off on your trip rather than going in blindly and risking safety. Postponing doesn’t mean canceling, so you’ll be able to enjoy your trip much more when you're confident about the conditions.